As It Is: Terry Murden
A month before the EU referendum a prominent remainer stated how the bloc was a “great invention, one that even Lady Thatcher campaigned enthusiastically to create.”
He declared “it gives every business in Britain access to 500 million customers with no barriers, no tariffs and no local legislation to worry about.”
Sajid Javid, now the Chancellor of the Exchequer, uttered those words in a newspaper column in which he outlined the drawbacks of leaving the EU.
With voters having ignored his advice and Britain only a fortnight from leaving, Mr Javid has been forced to change his tune and is tasked with striking the best deal he can. With no further need to campaign, lobby or debate the issue, he’s given an interview spelling out the reality of EU withdrawal, talking about how there will be no alignment with EU regulations and that some firms will benefit, while others will suffer.
His comments have prompted another round of apoplectic indignation and warnings of economic armageddon, not least from the ‘told-you-so’ SNP who delight in any hint of Brexit alarm.
But should we be surprised by what Mr Javid said in his interview with the FT? Surely non-alignment and not being part of the single market or the customs union was an expected outcome of EU withdrawal during the last three years of debate. It has also been pretty clear that there will be winners and losers. If he had said the opposite then questions would have been asked about the whole point of Brexit.
Opposition politicians were quick to seize on the Chancellor’s “admission” and business groups also expressed some concerns, particularly the food and drink industry which has long-feared the impact of new regulations on costs and consumer prices.
Even so, the reaction from business was more accommodating. The CBI’s Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said she “recognises there are areas where the UK can benefit from its future right to diverge from EU regulation”. British Chambers of Commerce co-executive director Claire Walker said business communities have differing views “but are prepared to be pragmatic about coming changes to regulation” (a view repeated by Liz Cameron at the Scottish Chambers).
Even the Food & Drink Federation’s CEO Ian Wright rowed back on earlier comments by his COO Tim Rycroft who expressed concern about the failure to deliver “frictionless” trade. Mr Wright, a former corporate relations director with drinks company Diageo, told Channel Four news he shared that view but was confident in Brexit minister Michael Gove “delivering” a deal.
Clearly, business remains guarded, sceptical and still requires heaps of assurances ahead of the real Brexit departure date of 31 December. However, there is a greater willingness across industry than among opposition politicians to work with the government to achieve a satisfactory outcome.
Mr Javid could have bluffed his way through his interview by claiming nothing stood in the way of Britain’s exit from the EU. Instead, he told it as it is., giving an honest assessment of how he saw the talks working out. One interpretation of his comments is that it presents opportunities for some businesses to gain substantially from Brexit.
If there is one doubt in what he said it is his pledge “to do this by the end of the year”. That will certainly raise a few eyebrows.